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Young continues spirited defense of earmark spending

Congressman says support building for controversial set-asides

Posted: March 16, 2012 - 12:15am
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Alaska Rep. Don Young greets people in the hallway of the Capitol during his visit to Juneau on Thursday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Alaska Rep. Don Young greets people in the hallway of the Capitol during his visit to Juneau on Thursday.

Congressman Don Young said there’s good news out of Washington, D.C. about earmarks, saying that some of the anti-earmark fervor is fading.

“Everybody realizes they made a mistake, but they afraid of changing their minds,” Young said, in a meeting with reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.

Young has long been one of the most outspoken proponents of earmarks, saying they’re needed to address Alaska’s unique challenges.

He’s fought against a congressional measure that banned earmarks, which Young said turned over all the spending authority to the president.

“He’s the biggest earmarker of them all,” Young said.

It is up to Congress to both raise and spend money, he said, and that power shouldn’t have been turned over to the executive branch.

Young said without him looking out for the state’s rural areas, all the federal money would go to the big cities with the most clout, not the small communities and villages where it is really needed.

“Who speaks for them when it comes to distribution of federal dollars? The president? It’s not going to go there,” he said.

In a state as big as Alaska, there are differing needs all over the state that will be ignored by federal programs without Young being able to single them out, he said.

“To say I can’t help my smaller communities, to say that I can’t help dredge the Petersburg harbor, I can’t work on the Wrangell dock, I can’t help the Ketchikan shipyard, that I can’t help build the causeway in Juneau, what kind of government is that? It’s not good government,” he said.

Young’s defense of earmarks hasn’t always been popular with all sectors of Alaska, and former Gov. Sarah Palin has publicly criticized earmarks.

In fact, Young was nearly defeated for re-election in 2008 by another earmark opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. Young survived that primary challenge, winning by just a few hundred votes.

He is currently running for re-election, and said if elected he intends to run for at least one more term, he said.

No one else can do the job as well as he can, he said.

Before meeting with reporters Thursday, Young met with first the House and then the Senate in meetings from which the public was excluded.

Young defended excluding the public, saying that resulted in better questions without TV cameras recording what they are doing.

“When you are on TV, you are more staged and the questions you get are more staged,” he said.

The Alaska Legislature exempted itself from the state’s open meeting laws, allowing the private meeting.

Among the questions legislators asked, Young said, were about the possibility of getting earmarks and more federal dollars.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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